Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Small but perfectly formed

I’ve got a bit of a fixation for ‘ugly’ things.  I don’t know quite why that is – maybe it’s that instinctive allegiance to the underdogs in life.  It manifests itself most when it comes to nature, where I find that the creatures which are often referred to as ‘ugly’ are really exquisitely beautiful when you get up close and personal.  I’m talking about creepy-crawlies, bugs, critters… whatever you want to call them… spiders, slugs, woodlice, daddy-long-legs, earwigs, etc.  Ugliness is in the eye of the beholder.

Last night something was flying around in the house, it sounded like it had a little propeller whirring as it traversed the room at low altitude and then banged into a wall.  I followed the sound and found what is rather bizarrely known as a cockchafer (ouch).  It looks like one of those humbug sweets with legs; shiny, round-backed, the colour of caramel and over an inch long.  As I have done many times before with various dazed and confused little beings, I put my hand out to catch it and it gripped my finger, I could feel its tiny feet cling onto me as I took it out into the garden and let it crawl to the tip of my nail, where it seemed to assess the evening air before it unfolded its wingcases like a cadillac convertible opening its roof, and took off to freedom.

A fascination for these so-called lowest forms of life started when I was very young. My mum would show my sister and me (and neighbours’ children too, if they were interested) spiders weaving webs or wrapping up a helpless fly and she’d explain it all to us.  It was like being on the set of BBC’s ‘Springwatch’ (but without the Smiths/Manics, etc. song references – three cheers for Chris Packham!).  She encouraged me to put blobs of jam on the garden path to entice ants and then I could watch them all gathering to feast on their sugary treat.  I really got into ants.  I loved watching the way they lugged huge things around with ease; apparently some species can carry items 100 times their own body weight. They frequently stopped to communicate with some kind of rapid antennae talk when they passed eachother. I was an enthusiastic spectator on ‘Flying Ant Day’ when I could watch the big queens and slightly smaller winged males make their maiden flights in swarms from the cracks in the patio paving slabs on a specially chosen hot summer afternoon.  The everyday worker ants rushed about, seemingly fussing over the event - I wouldn’t have been surprised to see them selling miniature ice-creams.  Now that really was a day for putting the jam out.

It’s well-known that all these insects, and lovely slimey things too like slugs and snails, are essential in maintaining our ecosystem and apparently the human race would die out in a shockingly short space of time without them. So I’ll always continue to let spiders spin and watch ants work and rescue stranded cockchafers.  Long live small beautiful ugly things.

Artwork by C / Sun Dried Sparrows (copyright me / Two Bad Mice)


  1. Ok, I promise I won't keep on popping up here saying "me too", but the cockchafer thing is so weird because I had one crash into my bathroom window just a couple of weeks ago and it really alarmed me. It looked huge and I didn't have a clue what it was - I thought it might have been dangerous so you're a lot braver than me! And yes, the name is a bit unfortunate. Didn't the Stones do something called 'Cockchafer Blues' or something...?

    (And as for other creepy-crawlies can I just refer you to a project that has laid uncompleted in my drawer for the last five years: )

    Ok, I'm out of here!

  2. Absolutely no worries, I appreciate all comments for the same reasons that I bother to blog at all, it can be an isolated profession! Great to see your insectopedia project, I have a whole interactive, pop-up, lift-the-flap book project on the subject set aside too... no time to complete it... Btw that was probably the very same cockchafer, touring round the Eastern counties on some kind of cockchafer publicity campaign, what with it having such a bad name, poor thing...

  3. PS - 'Cockchafer Blues'...!! :-D


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